The Rangers’ 60th game of the season was the most memorable moment of all. There could be something better, much better, in Seville on May 18.
With Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s team on the ropes and RB Leipzig on the rise, John Lundstram bulked up the net in front of the Copland Road stand. The level of euphoria represented a goal for history. Who cared that it was rudimentary?
The Rangers, a decade after financial collapse, will compete in a European League final. Leipzig will be upset about that given their prominence at the time of Lundstram’s intervention, but the truth is that Rangers’ effective football prevailed.
Rangers could cheer up despite last week 1-0 loss in Saxony. Leipzig had been frustrated and forceful for long stretches of that first leg, with Monday’s Bundesliga defeat to Börussia Mönchengladbach adding to the sense that Rangers could meet Domenico Tedesco’s side at the right time. . The counterpoint related to Leipzig’s useful propensity to score away goals in Europe; claiming the opening goal here would leave Rangers, who started without a recognized striker in their line-up, facing a stiff challenge.
The subdued and slightly curious pregame scene owed it all to the sudden death of Rangers prop man of more than three decades, Jimmy Bell. However, after completing a minute of silence, everything suddenly felt normal again. Just as Bell would want it to be.
Leipzig used early exchanges to hint at the possibility of carrying a threat at half-time, not posing any challenge to Allan McGregor in goal for Rangers. The hosts provided cruelty where the Germans could not, sending Ibrox into ecstasy in doing so.
Glen Kamara started the attack that restored global parity, with the midfielder releasing Ryan Kent on the left flank. Kent walked into the penalty area before shooting straight into goal. As is typical, captain James Tavernier appeared from behind to hit past Peter Gulacsi from close range. Leipzig’s frustration would have been intensified by the fact that their Borussia Dortmund compatriots had conceded an almost identical goal at Ibrox previously in this competition.
Not content with getting back into the tie, Rangers took the lead just six minutes later. This was a goal of wonderful quality, Joe Aribo’s pass to Scott Wright was the precursor to a frizzy finish from Kamara from 19 yards out. Wright had cushioned the ball beautifully into Kamara’s path. Only a dazzling miss from Aribo prevented Rangers from scoring three goals in the first half hour.
Leipzig, so strange for a team playing at such a high domestic level, was dazed and confused. Dani Olmo missed the goal in his first outstanding opportunity. Willi Orban headed wide after a free kick from Angeliño.
These flirtations with the Rangers goal aside, Leipzig offered nothing. Tedesco was surely happy to retire to the locker room without further damage. His star striker Christopher Nkunku spent the first half on the fringes of the game.
Aribo had been sidelined from the games seconds before the break after suffering a head injury. His substitute, Fashion Sakala, hit a Kent cross five minutes after the restart, but his header slid past Gulácsi’s left post. The good news for Rangers was that Leipzig had yet to test McGregor with an hour played. Tedesco was becoming increasingly and visibly agitated. It is not surprising; Having dropped to fifth place in the Bundesliga, this Europa League campaign suddenly provided a route to next season’s Champions League, as needed.
Red Bull did not invest millions in this club, which had not even been formed when Rangers reached the 2008 Uefa Cup final, because of the provision of false dawns. Could Nkunku, who arrived in Glasgow having found the net 32 times this season, really draw a blank in back-to-back games against Rangers?
It turned out that he couldn’t. From a ball by Angeliño from the left, the Frenchman hit a first-half volley that left McGregor defenseless. Nkunku had lived up to his growing reputation at the very moment his employers needed him.
Moments earlier, McGregor had brilliantly saved himself from the marauding Konrad Laimer. Leipzig had a pulse, mainly due to Tedesco replacing the hopelessly ineffective Olmo with Dominik Szoboszlai.
Leipzig now seemed by far the most likely side. However, this Rangers career has been built on occasionally staggering levels of resilience. Gulacsi fluttered horribly on a cross ball, a moment his defensive teammates couldn’t repair. Lundstram struck the decisive blow.